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Challengers emerge in elections for Wadena mayor, council

George Deiss thinks it's time for new blood in Wadena city government.

So last week, the component technician at Timber Roots filed paperwork to become the lone challenger to long-time Mayor Wayne Wolden in the Nov. 4 election.

Meanwhile, former Police Chief Bruce Uselman and Deb Wiese, a clinical systems analyst at Lakewood Health in Staples, joined the race for the two four-year council positions up for election on the same ballot. That race also includes incumbent council members Jeanette Baymler and Toby Pierce, who have filed for reelection.

Mayor's race

After 20 years farming south of Verndale, Deiss moved to Wadena in 1997.

The mayor's race is his first bid for elected office, although he's served on the Wadena County planning and zoning board and in church leadership positions.

In an interview Monday, Deiss said people who think everything in Wadena is fine probably won't vote for him.

"But if they're as concerned about the community as I am, I do think I'll have a legitimate chance and I'll try to make some changes ..." he said. "I think we could use a change in the council and mayor position - somebody looking from a different angle."

Deiss said the city needs to find ways to attract new businesses - particularly industry - and new residents.

Since his first election as mayor in 1998, Wolden has cruised to reelection every two years. In 2012, he captured 73 percent of the vote versus opponent Michael Burcham's 24 percent (the rest were write-in votes). Wolden ran unopposed in 2010 and defeated Burcham by similar margins in 2008 and 2006.

Reached by phone Monday, the mayor said he welcomes discussion of the issues, whether it be at public forums or answering the newspaper's candidate questionnaire.

"I look forward to the election season," he said.

City council race

Bruce Uselman knows firsthand how the city council operates, having attended the monthly meetings as police chief for 10 years.

He retired in 2013, but still works part-time for the Wadena County Sheriff's Office.

These days, "I've got a little more time in my life to commit to public service," he said.

Uselman, who was born and raised in Wadena, is the president of the local Lion's Club. Though he's never held elected office, he's a widely known figure due in large part to his 25 years on the city's police force.

That familiarity, "gives me a feel for what's going on," he said.

He said his No. 1 priority is to make sure the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center gets off to a good start, attracting members and developing a self-sustaining operating budget.

"That's going to be the challenge for the council."

He'd also focus on the upcoming comprehensive infrastructure project that will redo the streets, sewers, sidewalk and water network on Wadena's southeast side. "We want to make sure it's done right," he said.

Uselman said he's not running because he feels there's problems with the city, "per se." Rather, he said, he believes people can trust him to make good decisions and keep an open mind. "That's what it takes to be a good councilman ... working for the common goals of the city of Wadena. It's a great town. We're very fortunate to have what we have in Wadena."

Pierce, Baymler and Uselman are joined on the city council council ballot by Wiese, a first time candidate.

A native of the Twin Cities metro, Wiese has lived in the city since she got married 35 years ago.

Now that her kids have moved out of the house, she said she's ready to take on a new challenge.

"I'd just like to have an opportunity to contribute, to see what it's all about and be more involved in the community," she said. "It'll be an adventure, anyway."

Wiese said she's concerned about the "general decline of the community," both in population and economic activity.

"Why is this continuing to happen?," she asked rhetorically. "What can we do to invite change and influence a turnaround? ... I guess I'd like to see a little change in who we have as elected officials. I have nothing bad to say about anybody, but sometimes the doors open and they open for a reason."